Maricela Castellanos sat at her desk, the telephone pressed to her ear, a chill running through her body.
A representative from her mortgage company was on the line with troubling information about the loan on Castellanos’ Hesperia home.
No one at the company had previously been in contact with her, Castellanos recalled the man saying. The bank had no record of a new loan agreement with her, he said, nor had it received cashier’s checks for $2,260 and $1,408.23 she said she had sent.
Castellanos had been a victim of an alleged loan modification swindle — a financial crime in which scammers pretend to help distressed borrowers renegotiate their mortgages with their banks but instead pocket the money and leave the homeowners in worse straits than before.
Law enforcement officials say the scams are becoming increasingly prevalent, especially in California, where the Department of Real Estate has reported an explosion from 10 open cases a year ago to more than 750 this spring. Nationally, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has said that the FBI’s “rescue scam” caseload is up 400% from five years ago.
These scamsters pretended to be from Castellanos bank. They offered her an attractive loan modification that lowered her monthly payments, and instructed her to send the payments to a “Payment Processing Department” at a P.O. Box. They even had a 1-800 number. Amazing.